We have known for a long time that our immune systems keep the growth of disease in our bodies in check. Even if we have a genetic predisposition for a specific disease, a healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction practices can help reduce the growth of cancerous cells and diminish the chances of it limiting our lives. While not eliminating or curing the latent illness, the immune system decreases its ability to grow. The illness may still lay dormant for years without manifesting into a full-blown disease. Research studies, therefore, have proven that environment can either exacerbate or mitigate a genetic predisposition for disease. This is also true for dyslexia and most learning disabilities.
Although genetics play a role in how we process information, multisensory, structured, explicit reading instruction can minimize the effects of a genetic predisposition for dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. Just like proper immune function can prevent the development of disease, the right instruction can immunize students from reading failure. Even though dyslexia cannot be “cured,” a structured literacy approach from the start can allow students with this genetic influence to learn how to read, write, and spell adequately.
When parents ask me whether or not I think their child is dyslexic, I can’t help but think of the immune system analogy. Are there red flags that point to a language-based disability? Yes. Do I think the child might have fallen through the cracks because the reading instruction offered has not matched how their child learns? Yes. Environment plays a major role in learning outcomes. If we can recognize and attack the problem early while building up the prerequisite skills for reading and spelling, such as phonemic awareness (identifying and manipulating individual sounds in language) and alphabet recognition, we can stop a growth in its tracks.
Ignoring scientific research about how the brain learns to read is educational malpractice.
Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties. Her book, Reading Intervention Behind School Walls: Why Your Child Continues to Struggle, is available on Amazon. See information on her book and an interview with Ms. Borkowsky at: https://highfiveliteracy.com/book/